League of Legends

Riot on the newest LoL heroine – what the development process looked like, early concepts and more

The creators decided to talk about their ideas and the design process of the latest character, Vex.

One of the biggest events of 2021 is the arrival of a new Yordle to Summoner’s Rift. It’s been 5 years since another champion of this breed was released, so it’s no wonder that fans missed these little Runeterra residents.

Vex, however, is not your typical Yordle. She interested the community because she is much more gloomy and dark, and is also associated with Viego – the Ruined King, whose adventures were watched by thousands of people during the Rise of the Sentinels event.

Why did Riot decide to create a yordle that is not colorful and full of energy? What did Vex look like at an early stage of design? What inspired the creators?

About the newest heroine – Vex

The gloomy yordle had been talked about for several months now. The first announcements only revealed what race the new heroine would be, and that she would belong to the mage class. Riot admitted that initially the developers themselves only knew these two things. After more than 5 years of hiatus, it was time for a character from Bandle City to appear on Summoner’s Rift.

When Vex’s development began, the team knew she’d be a mage and a yordle. And while we make mages often, it’s been a while since a new yordle has plagued graced the Rift—seriously, Kled was released in 2016 (congrats you’re old).

Bandle City has a pretty diverse cast of champs who call it home. There’s a shark-summoning psychopath who plays painful practical jokes, a pilot who sounds like he should be talking over a HAM radio, and a sorceress who has definitely never licked a psychedelic toad, to name a few. 

But what do they have in common? What makes a yordle, a yordle?

The yordle race is incredibly interesting. As the creators admit – these little creatures are deeply fascinated by Runeterra. Some of them are so interested in the world around them that they decide to leave their native Bandle City and go to other regions to live closer to people. Some yordles become so involved in new communities that they change their personalities. For example, Poppy, charmed by Demacia, becomes a knight, Kled considers himself a mighty warlord from Noxus, and Heimerdinger, fascinated by science, became one of the most brilliant inventors of Runeterra.

This breath of human experience meant the team had loads of options for what could define Vex. But they wanted something unique among yordles. Something darker. Something…angsty.

League champions usually have some aspirations. They are often brave heroes destined to save Runeterra, or mighty villains seeking world domination. The creators asked themselves: What if we were to create a champion whose only task is for the player to identify with him? Someone for fans to see themselves in. Someone who doesn’t care.

Lead screenwriter John “JohnODyin” O’Bryan explained:

I became an adult in the ‘90s, and Vex isn’t all that different from the surly ‘90s slacker. She’s kind of too cool for everything. Beyond that, a lack of motivation is something that me, and a lot of other people, identify with. I really wanted Vex to resonate with anyone with a history of depression. Who the f&^% hasn’t wanted to not get out of bed and go do what they gotta do? But with Vex, we leaned more into the teenage feel of apathy and angst more than outright depression.

The Rioters also emphasized that by creating Vex, they do not want to downplay clinical depression or joke about a disease that affects many people. As the creators admit – they wanted to design a character that would not only be close to those who are actually sick, but also to teenagers with a storm of hormones or players who have a harder period, which causes them to suffer.

Early Vex concepts

Teenage angst is practically universal, and it felt like a unique personality for a yordle champ. But a surly, unmotivated teenager ran the risk of being kinda one-dimensional, and people are far, far more complex than that. Vex is more than that. She’s not just moody and apathetic. There’s more going on in her furry little yordle head that the team wanted to express.

Vex and her shadow

As lead concept artist Gem “Lonewingy” Lim started to think about the look of Vex, she had much more to think about than just choosing a shade of black to suit the Yordle. She wanted to provide Vex with some way to express her emotions.

Of all the apathetic teens in the spread, the “big arms” concept stood out the most. Vex could keep her air of cool, collected goth yordle while her hands betrayed her true feelings. But there was one problem: Vex was a mage, not a fighter.

Gem “Lonewingy” Lim explained:

When you see two big hands on a champion, you’re limited to what you can express with their animations and gameplay. It basically boils down to things like grabbing, controlling, and puppeting. That direction was really risky because it didn’t communicate how a mage’s gameplay is supposed to feel. So it wasn’t the right direction for her. That meant we needed to find a new way for Vex to express herself.

Luckily there was another concept in the original spread that spoke to the team. The “goo bunny-mancer.” But the team had some questions, like “where did the bunnies come from? And why would this apathetic loner have pets?” The answer was that maybe they weren’t just pets. Maybe they were more than that. Maybe they were a part of her all along.

The goo bunnies weren’t the thing the team really liked—it was what they represented. So when Vex’s kit shifted to a control mage (more on that later), so did her visual design. And that’s when Shadow was born.

Long before crushing on teaming up with Viego and becoming empowered by the Black Mist, Shadow was simply a shadow (huehue) of the power it is today. It was merely a tool Vex used to grab a bag of chips from the cabinet when she was too lazy to get up from her beanbag, and not a powerful source of shadow magic that almost caused Runeterra to fall to the whims of a shirtless simp king.

But the Shadow we have today almost wasn’t. And the reason why is pretty dark… literally.

Gem “Lonewingy” Lim recalls:

Vex’s color palette is almost all black, including Shadow. And that’s a really difficult thing to get right while maintaining readability. The first version of Shadow was a giant puddle of black ink with eyes and ears. It’d get disturbed and ripple out, but it was really just an amorphous blob similar to Vladimir’s pool.

The selected colors caused many problems, so the creators faced a real challenge.

It was really difficult to see whether Vex was facing forward or backward because of her clothing and how dark Shadow needed to be,” continues Lonewingy. “It caused a huge headache for us because there were so many technical hurdles. We didn’t have the tech to support a living shadow, and the engineering team put in so much work to make Shadow feel like a living, active part of Vex and League.

Vex and Shadow’s interactions in-game might raise a few eyebrows. She often speaks to it with annoyance and anger—which certainly says something about how she sees herself. But more importantly, it grants a glimpse behind the carefully crafted mask of indifference to the thoughtful, crazy expressive yordle underneath… and to the crushes she pretends not to have.

The initial idea for Vex

When we first talked about Vex, we mentioned that we were making an artillery mage. A lot of players were really hyped for that—and for the record, so were we. Before we jump into the Vex we have today, let’s talk about how she started.

Originally, Vex’s gameplay, planned by Nathan “Lutzburg” Lutz, involved the creation of portals that extended the range of missiles sent by allies. You could have Miss Fortune’s ult with twice the range, Blitzcrank hooks appearing almost out of nowhere, and similar terrifyingly fantastic experiences. There was only one snag: it would take a huge budget to create such visuals.

Why would the price be so high? Riot admits that it would take a complete rework of the effects of nearly every projectile sending skill so that it can interact with Vex. And it just wasn’t feasible.

The Vex’s Long Range Mage kit was based on the mechanics of an extension, so after removing it, it had to be re-invented. Taking a step back, the team realized something was missing that was the coolest thing about Vex: her personality.

Vex is irritated by everything around her, especially if it’s something exciting and bursting with energy.

And you know what’s high-energy and annoying in League? Dashes. There are so. Many. Dashes. And Vex is having none of it.

Gameplay Project Manager Bryan “Riot Axes” Salvatore explained:

Every so often, Vex’s next basic spell fears and interrupts dashes. And whenever an enemy dashes near Vex, they’re marked with Gloom and then her next basic attack, Q, or W deals bonus damage and refunds cooldown on the fear. Basically, the more an enemy dashes, the more damage she deals and interrupts their dashes. Because her new kit hook is only cool if people are nearby, Lutzburg and I needed to pull back on her range and make her feel more powerful when enemies are close. That meant she needed to not be an artillery mage anymore. Because if someone with range like Xerath is good against divers, they have no weaknesses, and that’s not good game design.

In short, if Yasuo’s dashing around and hasagi-ing minions half a screen away, Vex doesn’t care. But if he and his toilet-paper-wearing brother come at her directly, she’s going to get real annoyed and shut them down.

But Vex is a mage and not a fighter, which means she needs to be able to sling spells from some amount of range. Luckily that’s precisely what her Shadow’s for.

Riot Axes explained:

Vex’s ult is really its own thing in her kit. It’s basically a dash that resets on kill—it’s a very high mobility, high octane, exciting moment which is actually super awkward for Vex! Because she’s more into putting down high octane and exciting moments.

Vex’s ult is Shadow, her expressive side, taking the wheel for a moment. How it all fits together is pretty simple, enemies dashing around near her annoy her and empower her to do more damage, and then if they try to escape she can turn the tables and dash to them to continue taking out her annoyance on them until they’re dead.”

JohnODyin in one of his statements admitted:

A question I kept coming back to during development was, ‘Can you make a MOBA champ that doesn’t want to be a MOBA champ? I found that question super compelling. We never know how a champion’s going to land, but Vex is a bigger gamble than we usually take. I think some people will really love her, and some won’t.

Riot Axes joked:

I remember hearing her VO for the first time and some people thought it was too over-the-top. But I swear I actually knew this person in high school.

Yeah. Making champions is just like making a rainbow. You have to make a rainbow when you’re making all these champs, and Vex gets to be our dark gray.